Further thoughts on the QB competition & WR an issue?

Matt Flynn in pole position? He still needs to win the job

It was revealed yesterday that Matt Flynn will be starting again this weekend, with Russell Wilson playing the second half against Denver. It’s a further opportunity for both players to show they have what it takes, with Tarvaris Jackson watching from the sideline for a second consecutive week. The decision has led to some speculation about Jackson being shopped but you have to ask (with the greatest respect) who is going to be interested in that deal?

It’s not entirely unfair to think Seattle will be looking to move Jackson and his $4m salary if he’s likely to be the second or third string quarterback. Yet muddying the waters somewhat is the fact he’s still getting first team reps in practise. And while he’s receiving those reps, Flynn and Wilson, crucially, are not. So while many are trying to convince you this is a won race in favor of Flynn, I still lean towards taking Pete Carroll’s words on face value. He doesn’t need to see Jackson play. He does need to see the other two. And while he continues to get first team reps in practise, this is an open competition. For now.

Mike Florio had an interesting point this morning on Seattle’s quarterback saga (and it is becoming a saga to everyone on the outside). Is Jackson a frustrated onlooker?

Perhaps not…

“It could be that Jackson realizes that the diluted reps will make it harder for whoever wins the job to be fully prepared for the games that count. And so, like so many of these situations, the guy who wins the job will essentially be securing dibs on the first shot at losing the job.”

Perhaps Carroll understands there was no ideal situation at hand when it comes to the quarterback position? After all – signing Tarvaris Jackson to be the uncontested starter wasn’t an ideal situation 12 months ago. Carroll definitely didn’t dream of running an offense led by Jackson when he took on his last big shot at being a successful NFL Head Coach. But needs must and Jackson was familiar with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, so he got the chance.

A year later, the situation isn’t much better. Seattle found a quarterback they liked – and liked a lot – in the draft, but rightly didn’t want to put him in a situation where he was directly competing with a largely unpopular Jackson to start as a rookie. Pressure to go with Wilson would’ve been intense if he was only competing with Jackson. The addition of Flynn in free agency came at a price (although the expense is often overplayed) but crucially it gave Seattle a further option. And let’s not forget – there was no guarantee the Seahawks were going to get Russell Wilson. Had they not acted on signing Flynn in free agency and then missed out on Wilson, we’d probably know who the starter was by now. It’d be Tarvaris Jackson.

Perhaps sensing they were once again making the best of a not-ideal situation, they were right to try and find as many logical options. Flynn was an opportunistic strike, made when his market turned out to be cold in free agency. But in creating a three-way competition, as Florio points out , no one-single quarterback is getting the sole focus of the reps and full-on practise. Whoever wins this competition will not be getting the same amount of practise time as a quarterback who knows he will be starting from the start of camp. Even with the drama of flirting with Peyton Manning and messing around getting Alex Smith re-signed, the division champs know who will be their guy in week one. And that’s the team Seattle has to aim to catch.

I suspect Carroll and co believe Flynn is best positioned to deal with what will be a difficult environment. His ‘neat and tidy’ passing game may provide conservative consistency rather than the kind of X-factor play a lot of fans (rightly) crave. Yet at the same time, this team is probably more willing to put Flynn into that difficult situation than a guy they’ve drafted. If Flynn struggles or is just mediocre, they can write him off without too many questions over their judgement. They took a chance, but it didn’t work. Who’s next? If Wilson starts and struggles they face the issue of mounting pressure to turn to Flynn, a talented rookie being cast out, a pick being wasted and the judgement (draft and starter choice) being seriously questioned. That’s a lot to deal with. Even if Wilson is a more dynamic player – and the Seahawks need more dynamism at quarterback – the odds may be stacked against Wilson starting in 2012. If Flynn fails to convince as a starter, his contract is structured so they can cut him with limited financial pain in 2013 (his contract is front-loaded with a big bonus in year one taking up most of the guarantees).

So a lot of things point to Flynn having an edge, but I do feel this is a job that still needs to be won. Flynn is clearly being put in position to get the job done but it doesn’t mean he will. And if he doesn’t impress, you don’t start him for the sake of it. Wilson likewise needs to prove two things – a.) that if Flynn fails, he’s the man to turn to and b.) he’s at least the man for the backup job , allowing the team to consider cutting Jackson.

This is why I think all options are open at this stage. I don’t think Flynn pulled up any trees against Tennessee and if he struggles against Denver that will set alarm bells ringing. That’s probably why they want to keep challenging him against a first-team defense. Rather than giving him a chance to win the job, they might actually be giving him the first chance to lose it (see: Florio’s quote). Wilson doesn’t face the #1’s in the second half, but he has to be ready in case Flynn slips. Jackson is the guy in the background, ready to be called upon if required whether that’s to start or be the next guy up. My guess is the Seahawks intend for Flynn and Wilson to suitably impress allowing them to cut Jackson and not risk losing Josh Portis on the practise squad. But for that to happen, the other two quarterbacks have to prove they’re ready, which keeps this thing open for at least another week. And with this regime and with this team, we should expect any outcome.

Receiver a dilemma?

A year ago many would’ve considered receiver a position of some strength for the Seahawks. Sidney Rice had just been signed to a big contract and Mike Williams was coming off a surprisingly good year. Golden Tate was approaching his sophomore season as an expensive second round pick, while the team invested a considerable sum adding pass-catching tight end Zach Miller. Ben Obomanu signed a new deal along with Williams and there were other pieces fitting into the rotation. As it happens, an UDFA called Doug Baldwin would progress to become the teams most dynamic target.

Fast forward to 2012 and there’s a different environment. Rice – who suffered injury issues in Minnesota – now suffers injury issues in Seattle. Mike Williams has been cut. Golden Tate continues to be erratic. Zach Miller wasn’t used much at all in the passing game. The team felt obliged to sign Terrell Owens – approaching 40 and out of football. Another lost soul – Braylon Edwards – has also been signed. In fact, who would bet against Owens and Edwards starting in week one? It’s not a ridiculous thought.

Baldwin could very easily be the team’s best receiver again this year, but even he needs to prove his rookie season wasn’t a one-off.

Suddenly a case could be made for the position being a pretty substantial need and it could end up becoming a pretty big deal for the Seahawks. First and foremost, whoever wins the quarterback gig is going to need some help. It’s also very difficult to build a productive run game when the secondary threat is minimal. Receiver could be the single most underrated position in the league – not because a very talented wide-out is paramount to success, but it’s often last on the list of perceived needs. A lot of people see receiver = risk, but even the best quarterbacks need help.

If Rice is unable to prove he can stay healthy, even with the likes of Baldwin blossoming they’ll need a consistent outside threat in this offense. It’s slightly concerning, given that the 2013 class (at this extremely early stage) doesn’t appear to have much depth. Of course, players can and will emerge during the course of the college season. But the Seahawks don’t want to find themselves in a position where they finally find a quarterback for the future, only to ask him to throw to free-agent forty-year-olds.


  1. peter

    I kind of felt like reciever has been a priority for a while. Even before Pete Carrol. The signing of Rice to me was strange, because it’s always mentioned along the lines of this: “Well, if he’s healthy then he can be a number one….” To me that is the deal with being a number one, it’s a culmination of your talent, your ability to outsmart defenses, your ability to help out out your QB if necessary, your run blocking (see T.O ten years ago) and to put up those true number one reciever numbers you need to be healthy and dominant all the time. If you’re talent is qualified with statements about if’s and when’s, then you are not a number one. I have nothing against Rice and hope that he is healthy and kicks ass when he’s out there and makes my skepticism look foolish.

  2. Rugby Lock

    Nice piece Rob. WR is an area of concern but right now, aside from LB which doesn’t concern me too much, it’s just about the only one. I think Flynn will do a much better job than Tjack and I think RW’s ceiling is off the chart. We are not a championship caliber team but we’re quite close! Overall, very nice progress compared to the crap team that PC & JS inherited.

  3. Kip Earlywine

    I actually love our situation at TE/WR talent and experience wise, the thing that should cause concern is the injury bug. Rice is an obvious injury concern. Baldwin is undersized and was a major injury concern in college. Kellen Winslow hasn’t missed much time in recent years, but his knees are riskier than most. Zach Miller just suffered his 4th concussion. Even though it was mild, that still has to be concerning. Owens turns 39 in December, and is still recovering from an ACL.

    This is a group that could be outstanding if healthy, but with so many risky players, you can pretty much bank on two or three of them missing time this season.

    • Rugby Lock

      Exactly my point Kip. It may not be a concern from a talent level as you say, and I agree with that. But, due to the plethora of injury concerns it is an area that the team needs to be worried about. BTW, when are you going to post another article?

  4. Hawksince77

    Rob, interesting read. Thanks!

  5. Bernie

    Ok, the days that Jackson “took 1st team reps” were the 1st days of practice every week, & yes, he took the FIRST reps with the FIRST team, but after that, they rotated all practice long & they all worked w/ EVERYONE!! So it’s not like he worked with the 1’s Flynn w/ the 2’s & Russell w/ the 3’s for crying out loud!!! It’s like everyone saying they paid Flynn “a ton of money.” SHUT UP!!! #12thMan

    • Rob Staton

      It doesn’t matter when Jackson took first team reps. The fact he’s taking them away from Flynn/Wilson is the key here. If there really was no ‘competition’ involved, they wouldn’t be wasting crucial snaps on Jackson. Nobody has ever said it’s a case of Jackson with the 1’s, Flynn with the 2’s and Wilson with the 3’s so I don’t really see the point you’re making Bernie.

  6. LouieLouie

    Hey Rob: Nice article. I thought T-Jack was “by by baby” (to quote Lon Simmons), but you may be right about how you see it. I see Flynn’s ceiling as a very good “game manager” type of QB. Hopefully, he will be good at manipulating the defense and moving the chains with the short passing game. With the improving O-Line and a top rate pound the D running game, that is what the Hawks will need for 2012.

    I think that Carroll and Co. have always had a high priority at wide receiver. They looked at a couple of big and fast veterans in Denver and San Diego coming out the gate, before Mike Williams had such a good year. It will be critical this year to have a decent WR crew to give whichever guy(s) start at QB this year a chance to be successful.

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